Annecy: Day 3, 4, 5

by kangcuzzi

Annecy, oh Annecy, with your crystalline lakes, rustic storefronts and looming mountain ranges — if only your Wi-Fi worked better! I hate to condense three full days into a single post, but the spotty Wi-Fi at our hostel has rendered such a task inevitable. Oh well. If anything, Annecy deserves a reflection that resembles poetry more so than regular prose, so in the next thousand words or so I’ll attempt to write just that.

Where do I begin? After four hours on the train from Paris, we arrived in Annecy harbouring very little expectations. Annecy was simply a quaint city Joseph had mentioned during the planning stage of our trip, and which had — very importantly — elicited some heartbreakingly beautiful photographs in its Google search results.

So of course our first stop was Annecy’s Old Town, the perpetrator of Annecy’s fairytale aura. For a while we walked through the cobblestoned streets, and although it was quaint and picturesque, I couldn’t help but feel as if the town looked a little overdone (compared to, say, the effortlessness of Stockholm’s Gamla Stan). Nonetheless, it was certainly relaxing to be away from the hustle and bustle of Parisian life. The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming in the lake and sitting in the sun, and by the time we got back to our hostel for an outdoor dinner we were dazed by and saturated with the postcard-ready aura and mannerisms of Annecy.

The following day was spent in the outdoors, in a series of events that was diametrically opposed to what we had been doing in Paris. Our urban walks were replaced by a long hike up Mount Veyrier, a 1,200 meter climb that revealed the most stunning panoramic view of Annecy Lake. The hike preceding the view was set amongst a very Twilight-esque backdrop of long trees, freckled paths and crumbling rock, the lattermost of which freaked out my inner ten year-old (who once ran down a steep hill and landed face down in a bed of rock… whoops). Throughout our hike, we were accompanied by a lovely Brazilian girl named Débora, and as we conquered the steep climb we talked about a whole mélange of topics ranging from poetry to artificial intelligence to politics. (If there’s any tips I can give on budget traveling, it’s this: stay at a hostel! You’ll meet a whole range of fascinating people with so many stories to share — in fact, we met Débora because the Wi-Fi shut off at an inconvenient time. Maybe the bad Wi-Fi was worth something.)

After we successfully descended Mount Veyrier — not before getting lost and stumbling upon a random house in the middle of a hay field — we sat on a boardwalk and ate some sandwiches before getting ready for our bike ride around the periphery of the lake. And if the length of the trail — an astonishing 42 kilometres — isn’t indicative of the incredible size of the lake, I don’t know what is!

To put 42 kilometres into approximately 42 words: expansive views of the bluest blue; running on tanned roads; feeling the wind in our wake; a sharp pain in the legs and the chest; the smell of fresh air; seeing beachgoers by the lake; the cool of cold water; a triumphant finish.

There we go: a makeshift, slightly butchered version of a haiku.

But it wasn’t all that poetic. By the time I finished the 42 kilometre loop, sweating, red-faced and with my hair spilling out of my cap, Joseph and Débora had been waiting beneath a tree for a few minutes.

Annecy today, Tour de France tomorrow. Clearly.

Before we went back to the hostel, we went to a supermarket to grab some groceries. Thankfully, Joseph and I were not late this time, and to our great delight the automatic doors of the market did not stay closed in our faces as we attempted to walk in. Back at the hostel, dinner was a culturally relevant potpourri of baguette, three kinds of cheeses (goat, brie and an unidentifiable kind which cost 1.5€) and French apricots. Not only was I one step closer to becoming a cycling champ, but also a veritable French chef! (Although, to be frank, ‘cultural relevance’ might perhaps be my excuse for being lazy, stingy, and not wanting to cook. To each his own…)

The next day, a motley crew from the hostel — Débora from Brazil, Connor from the US, Erica from Canada and me and Joseph — decided to take the 6€ bus to Semnoz, a quaint town directly facing the snow-capped peaks of Mont Blanc. As cliché as it may sound, words cannot describe the awe the wayward traveler feels upon seeing Mont Blanc for the first time. Something about it was so exquisite, so delicate, and for a long time I couldn’t even touch my camera in fear of cheating the view of its beauty. Perhaps it was our surroundings that made the moment what it was: in the distance we could hear cow bells as they tinkled in the wind, as the cows themselves grazed in the freshest air I had breathed in a long time. Our initial group of five became one of seven as we met up with two others from our hostel, Andrei from England / Russia and Luca from the US, and together we walked up the grassy hills, played with cows, and spent two hours admiring all that Semnoz had to offer.

Upon our return in Annecy, we spontaneously decided to rent a paddle boat and dive in the lake. Henceforth, for an hour Annecy Lake had to tolerate the ‘party boat’ as drinks were opened and backflips were accomplished one after the other. If we weren’t swimming in the lake, we were on the boat, complaining about how difficult it was to paddle and talking about tan lines, dialects, and our collective promise to one day pool together a decent sum of money to buy some real estate beside Annecy Lake (or the entirety of the lake, or both).

It was surreal to think that all of us had been strangers the day before, and that we were only together thanks to the workings of chance. If the Wi-Fi hadn’t failed, we wouldn’t have met Débora. If we weren’t at the dinner table at the time we were, we wouldn’t have met Erica or Connor. If we hadn’t gone on the 11:30 bus to Semnoz, we wouldn’t have met Andrei or Luca. If we hadn’t decided to stay at Annecy Hostel, let alone go to Annecy, we wouldn’t have seen what we had seen, had the conversations we had, experienced what we did.

It was in this spirit of chance and camaraderie we walked back to our hostel for our final night. After cleaning up we gathered in the outdoor patio to play pool (where I got two balls in with one strike — know of any job openings for culinarily talented cyclist-cum-pool players?), and, when the pool table closed, we sat at a table and resumed the long and varied conversation from hours before.

The ‘good nights’ that wrapped up the evening would be our first, and our last.

Next stop, Lyon: the gastronomic capital of France!